Thursday, November 23, 2017

Death by Consultation (2017)

From the November 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Monday 2 October, 8.00am: 2,100 Monarch Airlines staff woke up to learn on BBC News that they had no job. Monarch had maintained complete secrecy until midnight on Sunday when the final rescue deadline expired with the Civil Aviation Authority and the company went into administration. Monarch destroyed thousands of holidays, and two thousand working lives, with zero notice and zero decency. But mass redundancies aren't always so brutal. Sometimes they are done on the sly.
Things seemed to be looking up recently in my area when a long-derelict piece of ground overgrown with scrubby weeds was invaded by a small army of diggers and 'dozers and men in hard hats and neat stacking portacabins. The recession was over, this hive of sudden activity seemed to say. Banks must be investing again. Capitalism is moving out of slump towards its boom phase.
As if to confirm the excitement, there was around the same time a flurry of mail through the door offering credit cards sweetened with zero-interest loan periods. What did it all mean? Where was all this new cash coming from?
But this isn't new cash, it's old cash that's been in hiding. Recessions aren't times of no money, they are times when the people who have money don't want to lend it. Idle money may not earn them anything, but with firms going bust every day the risk of not getting their money back is just too great. Nor is there any incentive to lend, because the central bank will have floored the interest rate in order to keep people spending and borrowing and thus keep the economy moving. But it's a Catch 22, because the same trick also means that nobody wants to lend.
In a recession businesses can't get loans so they go to the wall, sometimes taking whole supplier networks with them, while new businesses can't start up. To people on the street with nothing but fluff in their pockets and negative figures in their bank accounts, it will look as if there is no money anywhere, as if it's all mysteriously vanished into some cosmic black hole. Which in a way is true. The banks have sucked all the money out of the system and are sitting on huge piles of it, stashed away in their credit ledgers.
Eventually things change, if only because things can't stay that way forever. People with money need to lend almost as much as the rest of us need to breathe. They dare to become confident again, or at least their venality finally overcomes their caution. The economic lights turn from red to amber. The green light is coming, and engines start to rev.
Looking back on the start of the recession is like looking at an elephants' graveyard, a mass culling of under-financed and over-exposed businesses including the shock collapse of seemingly-invulnerable giants. In this late period one might still see the odd outlier like Monarch, but mostly it's a long tail of rasping last gasps drawn by small and medium businesses which had somehow hung on grimly under the radar and, cruelly, started to believe they were going to make it.
Death of a company
You don't hear about these small deaths because they don't reach the news. Their passing is marked by barely noticeable details. Boards go up, tombstone-like, across windows which yesterday were alive with deals and special offers. Workers in a car park manoeuvre large numbers of used office desks and other furniture into a removal van. A skip is piled high with rain-soaked office jumble: filing shelves, brochure containers, birthday cards and old Christmas decorations.
As in nature, businesses don't necessarily enjoy a serene passing. Smelling blood, the sharks close in, and there is a feeding frenzy of takeovers, asset-stripping and closures. It is a wonderful chance for those with money to pick up plant, equipment, patents, licences and customer databases, all at rock-bottom prices.
Cannibalising a company is not straightforward though, and buyers must be careful to step gingerly through the regulations, known as TUPE, which relate to takeovers. Specifically, you are not allowed to buy a company and immediately sack its workforce, because you will be successfully sued at a tribunal for unfair dismissal. Neither can you get around this by offering, or appearing to offer, similar employment in some distant city, as this will fall foul of the rules around constructive dismissal.
Instead, the clever thing to do is to buy the company and tell the nervous staff that you have no idea what you plan to do. You issue a 'Letter of Measures' which includes an innocuous clause suggesting that 'some redundancies' may not be ruled out. You then embark on a period of 'Consultation' with the staff in order, supposedly, to determine the best way forward for their company. You encourage them to open up honestly about systemic problems in the company and when they do, you are all ears and sympathy. You want to find solutions. You are here to help. If staff want to know what the future holds, you answer helplessly that nobody can predict how the Consultation will turn out. If staff are tempted to desert the company before you are ready to let them, you encourage them to stay and assure them that there is no reason to fear the worst. You beg them for the sake of everyone's future to maintain business confidentiality and not divulge any information to business associates, or even to their friends. You maintain an impenetrable air of fairness and open-handedness.
When the consultation period is over you can announce 100 percent redundancies, citing systemic problems and confident that you have followed TUPE procedures to the letter if not the spirit. The devastated staff know that they do not have a legal leg to stand on. However you are still not in the clear, because you now have to abide by Part IV, Chapter II of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, which stipulates that you must represent your intention to close the business as a 'proposal' and allow a further minimum 30 days for more 'Consultation' with the staff. You duly do this, inviting the staff as per regulation to come forward with any alternative suggestions (e.g. not getting sacked) which they may be able to come up with. Of course you have no intention of seriously considering these suggestions and when they materialise, you destroy them comprehensively by any means necessary including using financial data which is confidential to the business and to which the staff have no access. The proposed closure is at this point a 'proposal' in name only, a fact evident to everybody but which you must continue to deny at every point. With no other recourse, the staff sit at their desks pretending to work and await the inevitable. When the staff fail to produce any further suggestions to avoid their fate, you can regretfully proceed with the closure. The staff have had every opportunity. Procedures have been followed. No chance of ACAS becoming involved.
Working lives trashed
When the bottom line demands it working lives get trashed, either brutally and all at once, or slyly and through a prolonged pantomime of consultations. Workers ought to understand this and some do but somehow many don't. Instead they insist on believing in decency and fair play, not realising that these are only found among the working class and in fairy tales but not in business or among the rich. First comes the hope, then the shock, then the bitterness. Too late comes the cynicism.
But the knife twist is worse than this, if one considers how the business came to fail in the first place. Like the captain of a ship who runs it aground or into an iceberg, the boss of a company may refuse to take good advice from their officers and crew. Such bosses, emotionally attached to their own authority and deeply distrustful of those around them, may refuse to delegate and attempt to micro-manage every part of the business until, exhausted and unable to tell good decision from bad, they make a final and fatal error. The 'wisdom of crowds' is not a concept understood by bosses. Democracy is anathema in business and reviled as 'mob rule'. So even when the enterprise is sinking the workers are kept in the dark for reasons of confidentiality, to maintain authority and to avoid early desertions. They are victims of capitalism's obsession with hierarchies, in which pecking orders matter more than rational decision-making and corporate status alone decides whether a worker has a voice.
So the ship goes down and the workers then discover, if they didn't know it already, that debt is an ocean it's easy to drown in. They flounder in this ocean, holding their families up and trying to hail passing boats, but the boats are all full or not looking in their direction. If a boat approaches with a spare seat, there's no question of being automatically hauled on board. Instead, the worker must go through the interview process. Why this boat, and not some other boat? What can you bring to this boat? Are your skills a match for what this boat needs? Why should we rescue you and not someone else? Describe a situation where you helped a boat row faster. Describe a problem involving boats which you solved. The worker concentrates hard on playing the game and giving the clever answers while trying to tread water and look cheerful. Nobody wants you when you're desperate.
And that is not even the final twist, which is that the boss has meanwhile got a handsome pay-out by the takeover company and an executive job on their board. When the captain of the Costa Concordia ran his ship aground in 2012 and fled before bothering to see his passengers safe, he got 16 years in jail. When similar things happen in business nobody thinks anything about it. It's nothing personal. It's just business.
Gradually the global recession lifts. New companies start up and new job opportunities will appear. Eventually a new generation of wage workers will also appear to fill these posts, brought up to aspire to better things than their parents had, but inevitably facing all the same groans and gripes and office politics that wage slavery engenders. And they will persist in the cruel delusion of their forebears, that if you work hard for a company, the company will work hard for you, and that if you defend capitalist society, that society will defend you. One would like to think that workers can learn from their mistakes, but some never recover from the experience of being scrapped like a rusty hulk, and sink into the murky depths of self-worthlessness and nihilism.
Some workers do get over it though. Maybe they talk to other people, maybe they just figure it out for themselves, but they understand where the real blame lies. Underneath the corporate courtesies and the glossy paintwork is a submarine class war that's as deep as it is dirty, a war that could not exist if all the oceans of power and money were drained right out of the world. Those workers know that the class war is being won today by the bosses because workers don't even realise they're in a fight. And they also know that doing nothing about the class war is the same as giving in.
That's why there are socialists in the world.
Paddy Shannon

A Belated Awakening. (1923)

From the August 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

An article in the New Statesman (23/6/23), entitled “The Temper of Germany," written by Robert Dell, is interesting from many points of view.

For years we endeavoured to convince our readers, by facts and logical deductions from facts, that the so-called German Socialist Party was built upon foundations of sand and was socialist in name only.

We were chided for our criticisms and referred to as “Simon Pures." The four million or so membership of the German Social Democratic Party was held up as an illustration of the value of compromise, and a reform rather than a revolutionary programme.

The outbreak of the big European War brought down this German house of cards. The large German party that was supposed to be sweeping rapidly on to victory turned jingo. The lack of socialist knowledge on the part of its membership, and the trickery of its leaders, was shown by the part it took on the side of the German capitalists against the commercial competitors of the latter. Instead of seeing his enemy in the capitalists of all nations the German worker took up the national attitude and abandoned the field of the class struggle. This attitude, of course, was not reserved for the German worker alone. A similar position was taken up by the workers in all the belligerent countries.

The attitude of the German Social Democratic Party is an object lesson to the workers of the futility of large numbers where sound principles are lacking; and the foolishness, from the point of view of the working-class movement, of submerging principles and entering, into compromises with the enemy in order to obtain a large following.

This lesson has not yet been taken to heart, as witness the formation of Communist Parties and the repeated manifestoes and conferences on “The United Front.” 

Robert Dell gave belated support to our years-old attitude towards the German S.D.P. when he wrote the following :—
   “This diagnosis of the temper of the German masses may seem strange in view of the fact that the German Socialist Party has not shown itself conspicuously internationalist. But it has to be remembered that the Socialist Party was the only effective Opposition before the war, and as such attracted to itself large numbers of people who in England would have been Liberals or even Moderate Conservatives. In 1918 the Majority Socialist leaders were not even in favour of a revolution. They accepted it because they were obliged to. Not much more than a fortnight before the revolution took place Scheidemann refused to agree even to the dethronement of William II. in favour of another member of his own family, although Erzberger was among the supporters of the proposal. Scheidemann would not abandon his Kaiser. After the defeat of the Kapp putsch the Socialists could have done anything they liked—they compromised with the defeated reactionaries. No party is more responsible for the present state of Germany than the Majority Socialists, and no individuals have as great a responsibility for it as Noske and Scheidcmann.”
When, in the past, we said as much of the German party as is contained in the above quotation, we were sneered at as visionaries. How the earth do move !

It is rather amusing to read the extract and then reflect on the fact that it appeared in a journal that supports the Labour Party —as the criticism fits the Labour Party so well. The same paper has also, in the main, supported the German Majority Socialists condemned by Dell !
Gilmac.

Notes. (1923)

From the September 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

To appreciate properly the wonderful genius of the Capitalist, it is useful to peruse the pages of the “Directory of Directors.” According to the “Daily News” (8/6/23):
“The book shows that many individuals hold numerous directorial appointments, and probably the most notable of these is the 60 directorships held by Mr. H. S. Berry, while Mr. Edmund Davies appears on the board of 52 companies, and the Viscountess Rhondda on 33 companies."
Imagine the marvellous ability of the man or woman who can do dozens of jobs at the one moment! The capitalists have evidently solved the problem of being in 30 or 40 places at the same time.

Seriously, however, this should convince any worker, who will give the matter a few moments’ thought, of the fact that the capitalists are not necessary to, and take no part in, industry. How can a man do any work of importance when his activities are split up over 40 or 50 concerns, and these concerns of immense size? Their figuring as directors merely consists of possibly attending a board meeting once in a few months for the purpose of hearing a report read of the activities of those who actually do take part in the work of the different concerns.


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The  "spiritualism” of the Church rests upon a very ordinary economic basis, in spite of the desire of “idealists” to raise it above the mundane. For example, the Church finds it cannot flourish without funds, and that to get funds it must adopt the commercial traveller methods of the ordinary business concern.

In order to stir up the getting of funds a book has been issued setting out the line religious collectors should adopt. It is entitled “Efficient Church Finance.” Here are one or two extracts from it:
  “Our ability to read character and our instinct for touching the right spot may enable us to secure unlimited favourable attention at once.”
   “Try to sense his viewpoint; begin talking along lines in which he is quite agreed."
   "Emphasise the more spiritual side of the ‘‘Weekly Freewill Offering". Tell of the Spiritual Uplift.”
That last point is the clincher ! Imagine the “spiritual uplift” attached to your "mouldy coppers” !
Gilmac.

The Freedom of the Press (1923)

Quote from the October 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Journalists are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks. They pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities, our lives, are the property of other men."
Jerome K. Jerome.
(The New Witness, 9/2/23.)

Funds. (1923)

Party News from the November 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

The winter is upon us, unemployment is widespread, thousands have the greatest difficulty in keeping the hunger-wolf from the door, owing to the smallness and uncertainty of the wages they obtain.

Under such conditions it must seem curious and even callous to the outsider to ask a worker to spare pence out of his pitiful pittance for Socialist propaganda.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is made up of working men—the poorly paid and the unemployed. We are organised to overthrow the system that breeds overwork, poor pay and unemployment. Organisation needs funds.

Funds are necessary for instance for the following purposes: (1) the upkeep of the central office, in which the business of the organisation can be transacted, educational classes held, and so forth; (2) the printing expenses for the production of circulars, pamphlets, and the monthly journal—the At S.S.” ; (3) the obtaining of platforms and the hiring of halls for public meetings.

The above are some of the most important expenses incurred.

To meet these expenses our members pay what they can, but we are unable to subscribe sufficient ourselves to keep the party solvent. To meet the deficits we have collections at our meetings, and invite subscriptions to our Thousand Pound Fund. Up to the present we have been just able to scrape through, but we are rapidly reaching the point where we will be unable to scrape through. This is largely due to increased costs of printing, office expenses, decreasing collections, owing to the general depression, and the decreasing capacity of our members to subscribe.

The sequel can be easily understood. Unless more funds are forthcoming we will have to curb our activities still further, and possibly suspend publication of our monthly paper, The Socialist Standard.

Those who agree with our propaganda and desire to see the continued publication of The Socialist Standard, and also the printing of further pamphlets, are earnestly invited to do what they can in the way of subscribing to our funds, and extending the circulation of our literature.

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Who were the First Huns? (1923)

From the December 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ask most people, "Who were the first people in the European War to drop bombs on cities and destroy defencelcss women and children? ” and they will reply, “ The Germans.”

We have heard much these many years of the Hunnish raids of the Zepps, and aeroplanes, and the tales have been accompanied by harrowing descriptions of the sufferings of defenceless people.

The following quotation is from “A lantern Lecture, entitled 'War in the Air,’ by C. G. Grey (Editor of the Aeroplane), issued by the National War Saving’s Committee, Salisbury Square, E.C.4 ” :—
   “Slide 32: The Navy’s land machines went over to Belgium, and it is to the credit of the R.N.A.S. that the first hostile missiles which fell on German soil were bombs dropped by the R.N.A.S. at Cologne and Dusseldorf. Slide 34: Unfortunately the German advance in Belgium drove our bases so far back it became impossible to reach German towns with aeroplanes then available. Slide 35: It is interesting to note that these early raids of the R.N.A.S. were the first examples of bomb-dropping attacks in any war; and the pity is that we had not at the beginning of the war enough aeroplanes.”
Another dirty mark on the white banner of ideals!

What The Labour Party Proposes After The War (1943)

Editorial from the January 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

Miss Ellen Wilkinson in a speech at Tooting on October 26, 1942, is reported by the Evening News to have said :—
  You cannot expect to get a planned Socialist State the day after the armistice, tied up with pink ribbon, as a present from Mr. Winston Churchill.—(Evening News, October 27, 1942.)
Miss Wilkinson was stating the obvious, and it is to be doubted whether anyone in her audience needed such assurance; but if Mr. Winston Churchill, the Tory, cannot be expected to make us a present of Socialism, what of Miss Wilkinson and her Labour Party friends? Mr. Herbert Morrison, for example, has recently made two pronouncements on the world after the war. In a speech at Manchester he warned against abandoning war-time organisation and said that if we scrap sensible war-time planning
   We shall be heading for muddle and disaster, and out of that may come anything, including Fascism.— (Manchester Guardian, September 26, 1942.)
In a later speech, at Swindon, on December 20, he sketched what form post-war control of industry might take.
    Social control of production, however, might take many different forms. How much of it we wanted and in what forms could not be settled in terms of any political dogma. The sole test must be whether the public interest was served by such measures in particular cases or not. Some forms of economic activity would, like our postal and telegraphic communications, respond well to ownership and management by a department of State. But the public concern in this form was certainly not a universal panacea. Rather was it likely to be exceptional. What, for instance, should we do with our natural monopolies, industries which could not be carried on properly at all except on a monopoly basis? It might be that instead of leaving them in private hands . . . we should get better national service from them if we turned them into public corporations like the Central Electricity Board, the London Passenger Transport Board, or, in another sphere, the B.B.C.—(Times, December 21, 1942.)
He went on to suggest that other industries which are not natural monopolies though near-monopolies, such as the iron and steel and chemical industries, might be made into public corporations or put under "some form of management under a board of directors with a nationally nominated chairman."

So what sort of choice do Miss Wilkinson's Labour Party friends offer us? If capitalism is uncontrolled we shall have muddle and perhaps Fascism, and as a choice of alternatives we are to have supervised private monopolies or public corporations. Does Mr. Morrison believe that these forms (workable as a phase of capitalism though they may be) will prove satisfactory to the working class? They are forms of private ownership, and subject to all the stresses and strains inseparable from class divided society. Dividends for the investors will be their prime purpose, and they will be subject to the usual industrial conflicts with the workers employed by them. They will leave untouched the problem of converting private ownership into common ownership in the interest of the whole community.

The position is, then, that if Mr. Winston Churchill does not intend to give us Socialism neither does Mr. Morrison, and since there is no sign at present of the workers deciding to achieve Socialism for themselves we shall be left with capitalism even if it be agreed by Miss Wilkinson and others not to call it by that name but to label it "public control," or by some other fancy name.

Who Pays For Wars? (1943)

Editorial from the February 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

Everybody knows that war is destructive, but not everybody has a clear idea who pays for it. War involves the destruction of existing wealth, and still more the concentration of effort on the production of war materials destined only for destruction. Sometimes the victor can make the vanquished pay, but the last war showed how difficult it is to collect the huge bill that arises from a world war.

Who pays for the war? Who bears the financial burden? There are answers in plenty. "We do," say the landlords, who see many of their rents stabilised at pre-war level, while prices rise and expenses mount. ” We do,” say the industrial and commercial shareholders, who see Excess Profits Tax draining away £400 million of their profits, while more hundreds of millions go in Income Tax. “We do,” say the workers, who have been brought within the reach of Income Tax for the first time, and who see all goods they buy dearer in greater or less degree. “ We do,” say the pensioners and investors on fixed incomes, who have the same income as before the war (less after deduction of income tax) while cost of living has risen. Even the soldiers who sacrifice life and limb may add that they also bear a financial burden in loss of earnings.

The Socialist answer to the question, surprising though it is to many workers, is that the financial burden of war, like the financial burden of taxation in peace-time, falls in the long run on the propertied class, not on the working class. Why this is so can be understood only when the working of the capitalist system of society is understood. The foundation of the capitalist system is the ownership by a comparatively small class of people of the land, the buildings on the land, the mines under the land, the factories and their machinery, the railways, road transport vehicles, aeroplanes, ships, hotels, dwelling houses, and so on. These things and the mass of raw materials and finished products in existence at any given moment are the property of the capitalist class, landed, industrial and financial. While the means of production and distribution are owned by the few, they are worked by the many, the working class. It is the labour of the workers applied to the raw material, that produces all the goods and maintains all the services on which the whole of the population depends.

At this point it is sometimes argued that, since the workers produce everything, do they not pay for everything? But the answer is, No. What the workers produce is wholly the property of their employers, and it is the propertied class as a whole that does the paying. The industrial capitalist, having sold the goods produced by the workers, uses the proceeds to pay for the cost of raw materials, for the workers' wages, for repairs and replacements of machinery, for rent, advertising, etc., etc. The industrial capitalist, after paying all his expenses, including his workers' wages, is the owner of the “surplus-value” produced for him by the workers, though he has to surrender part of this surplus value to the landed, financial and commercial capitalist. What the working class receive is the amount paid to them by their employers in the form of wages and salaries. The working class are sellers of the only commodity they possess, their labour-power, and the price at which they sell, though it varies from country to country, and from one class of work to another, is determined by the cost of maintenance of those workers and their dependents. If that cost— the workers' cost of living—rises, then, other things remaining unchanged, the level of wages rises, though more slowly, and if the cost of living falls, wages fall. These adjustments are a resultant of opposing forces, including the workers' resistance through their trade unions.

The Capitalists always, in peace as in war, strive to get as much surplus-value out of the working class as they can, which means as much as the circumstances permit. They take advantage of a fall in prices or a growth of unemployment to depress wages, but when the process is reversed they are normally unable to resist granting wage increases. They cannot, merely by wishing to do so, pass on the burden of taxation to the workers. Taxation is a burden that falls on them, though what each group tries to do is to pass on a larger share of the burden of taxation to their fellow property owners.

The burden of taxation, in peace or war, and in spite of superficial appearances to the contrary, falls in the long run on the propertied class. They can try various devices, such as mass propaganda and taxes on wages, and by permitting a rise in the cost of living, to escape the burden, but always in the last resort the problem is the simple one whether the workers can be forced or persuaded to accept a lower wage (or to work harder or longer for the same wage), or accept a wage increase that is less than the increase of the cost of living. The economic forces of the capitalist system always tend to operate more or less effectively in spite of efforts to dam them up.

The capitalist class may try to ease their burden of taxation by getting more work out of the workers or by forcing a lowering of the workers' standard of living, but even if the workers were willing or compelled, as they sometimes are, this process has its limits because the workers' efficiency suffers if excessive fatigue or under-nourishment are continued too long.

What has happened so far in this war? The cost of living has risen, weekly wage rates for a normal week have risen, and earnings have risen in most cases more than the rise of wage-rates owing to the working of longer hours and to the extended introduction of piece-work systems. At the same time the workers' increased earnings have been reduced by the increased effect of Income Tax, and savings have increased. Now according to the Oxford Institute of Statistics, the net effect of all these changes has been that the workers' earnings have increased by just about as much as the increase in the cost of living and the effect of the income tax. Without crediting such estimates with an undue amount of accuracy, since the subject is a difficult one to reduce to simple terms, sufficient is known of the general movement of wages, prices, etc., to see that the general tendency is unmistakeable. The capitalist class have not in the main been able to pass on to the working class their burden of taxation. What has been achieved at the workers' expense is that, in order to maintain something like a pre-war standard of living (so far as that can be done in face of the complete disappearance of many articles), the workers are working much longer hours and suffering the consequent additional wear and tear on health and vitality.

On the capitalist side war results in some redistribution among themselves. Some gain, others lose, and often it is the large concerns that gain at the expense of the small ones —but this is not peculiarly a feature of war but only a continuation of peace-time trends.

As it is of obvious importance that the workers should he guided, in their notions by an understating of capitalist finance and taxation, we propose to return to this subject and deal with various aspects of the problem in subsequent issues.

"Workers' Revolutionary League" Please Note (1943)

From the March 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

The December-January, 1943, member of Solidarity, the organ of the Workers' Revolutionary League, includes the following:—
S.P.G.B. Please Note.
But soldiers have a short way with legal niceties which stand in the way of military advantage. (Evening Citizen, December 28th, 1942.) (W.R.L.'s italics.)
We have duly noted this somewhat cryptic statement from a Glasgow capitalist newspaper, and in the absence of any explanatory comment by Solidarity, can only study the contents of that periodical with a view to shedding some light on it ourselves.

If the statement quoted has any meaning at all, it is that occupying or invading armies ignore the legal “niceties" (or provisions) of the region or territory they are occupying.

How on earth Solidarity or anybody else can dream that this invalidates the case of the S.P.G.B. is beyond us.

When victorious armies (soldiers) "have a short way" with "legal niceties" they are but overthrowing one legal code to institute another. They are imposing the power of a stronger state machine upon a weaker defeated one.

The S.P.G.B. has always contended that the workers, before they can impose their will upon the capitalist class, must get control of the Capitalist State machine by the only means possible, securing a majority of the electorate.

The Workers' Revolutionary League, as evidenced in its quotations from Trotsky's "Defence of Terrorism (Terrorism and Communism)" of 1920 (the arguments in which were so completely disposed of by Karl Kautsky) still deludes itself, in face of the colossal power of modern armies and air forces, with pipe dreams of a minority revolt of the unarmed workers against the armed forces of the Capitalist State.

We are naturally well aware of the fact that they endeavour to justify this, as Trotsky and Lenin did, with a lot of high-flown rubbish about calling on the soldiers to refuse to shoot the workers down.

Soldiers cannot refuse to obey orders, and remain soldiers. Actually, they have no desire to. otherwise they would not be in the army.

“Woe to humanity if we fail to tear the rifle butt from the hands of reaction at the critical hour," says a Workers' Revolutionary League spokesman reported in the same issue of Solidarity.

This mysterious "critical hour" is our old Communist Party pre-war friend "the psychological moment."

On the contrary, the rifle butts are in the hands of the workers now—millions of 'em, and whether Solidarity likes it or not, they, the workers, are "the hands of reaction."

Another contributor to Solidarity, "Icarus" (how well named, his brief flight into the realm of political theory ending just as disastrously), takes an anonymous contributor to a Left journal to task for stating that—
"Fascism is enthusiastically welcomed by a large strata of workers."
"Where? Only our comrade knows," says he.
Let us state categorically, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt owe their positions to the enthusiastic support of large numbers of the workers. They are unthinkable without it, and nobody knows it better than they do.

When, finally, we read that the Workers' Revolutionary League wants to tear the rifle butts, etc., to arrive at the "classless, Stateless Socialist Industrial Commonwealth, Anarchism," we perceive yet another example of a fact expounded by the Socialist Party for years—that confusion on means (violent minority, direct action) usually pre-supposes, and is in fact synonymous with a lack of any clear and definite object.

The object of the Workers' Revolutionary League is “ Socialist Industrial Commonwealth—Anarchism." 

Anarchism has nothing whatever to do with Socialism —is diametrically opposed to it. It represents the hope of certain reformers—Proudhon, Stirner, Bakunin and Kropotkin—to convert the workers into small “independent" capitalists.

So the Workers' Revolutionary League, not knowing what it is aiming at, it is not surprising that it is completely bewildered about how to get there.

The S.P.G.B. repeats that the only way to get Socialism is to make Socialists. The rifle butts are all right—it's the ideas in the heads which have got to be torn out.
Horatio.

Pocket History of the British Working Class (1943)

Book Review from the April 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the faults of Postgate’s “Pocket History of the British Working Class" (N.C.L.C., 2s.) is that it is far too short to deal with the tremendous amount of material. The effort to compress working class history into 90 pages must result in the omission of much that is important. This, however, is not our only criticism, as while the book serves well as an introduction to the study of the infancy of the movement, the latter part, from the formation of the Labour organisations onwards, contains some inaccuracies.

The difference between the craft guilds of the journeymen and the Trade Unions is shown quite well. And a good outline is given of the efforts of the unions and sympathisers to gain a legal standing for the unions by the repeal of the Combination laws.

The Owenite movement is touched upon, but none of the other Utopians, such as Richard Hall, A. Combe, and John Bray are mentioned. The writings of these men played an important part in the theoretical side of the workers' movement in the early nineteenth century and a knowledge of their ideas is very useful to any student of working-class history.

The Chartist movement is summarised fairly adequately; the course of the movement, the disputes over the questions of violence, moral force and compromise, and the waning of enthusiasm, which eventually led to its break-up, are very well described. The wild statement of Stephens, given on page 30, "limb for limb . . . blood for blood," could have been followed by this statement of Lovett, a striking contrast: “All this hurry and haste, this bluster and menace of armed opposition can only lead to premature outbreaks and to the destruction of Chartism.' (History of British Socialism, Vol. 2, page 43, M. Beer.) One lesson we have learned is that the working class cannot maintain and sustain its movement by using violence against their employers or the State.

With the collapse of the Chartist movement and the rise of the “new model" unions, the workers seek concessions on the industrial field, and we have a short period of stagnation politically. We see large amalgamated unions arise which attempted to work in a spirit of co-operation and conciliation with the employers. Despite their activities, strikes occurred in many industries and widespread discontent existed. The Reform Act of 1867, giving the vote to town workers, and certain other concessions obtained, led the members of these unions to support the Liberals in elections, and some of their leaders went into Parliament as Liberals. In fact, as Postgate says on page 56, “Politically they become indistinguishable from party Liberals."

We now come to what must be considered the less satisfactory part of the book. When reading a work dealing with Socialism and Socialists, a newcomer would at least expect a little enlightenment as to what Socialism means, and an indication of how to establish it. In this work he will look in vain. Postgate classes all Labour organisations, with the exception of the Labour Party at its foundation, as Socialist, but differing in their methods of obtaining it. "Class war, the dialectic, no compromise, no reforms—the revolution or nothing. These were S.D.F. principles." (Page 68.) This is far too sweeping a statement, as the S.D.F. throughout their history were advocates of reforms.

We are. told that the work of Keir Hardie and the I.L.P. was "the making of Socialism a mass movement instead of a clique's doctrine " (page 64). Yet forty-seven years after they were founded, C. A. Smith, their chairman, wrote in the New Leader, March 14th, 1940, when referring - to Socialism: "Clearly it is high time for Socialists to get down to the job-of definition, and make quite clear to themselves what they mean by the term."

Although Postgate refers to the Labour Party as Lib.-Lab„ he infers, generally, that they were Socialist—e.g., page 66: "The propaganda of Socialism had at last reached the masses." This is stated because 29 Labour men had been elected to Parliament. Non-Socialist organisations such as the Fabians, the B.S.P. and the Labour Party are paraded through these pages, but the silence regarding the S.P.G.B. is complete.

Again, when dealing with the first world war, he omits any reference to the consistent Socialist attitude of the S.P.G.B.—an attitude based on understanding—yet he mentions the opposition of the I.L.P.

It is suggested that the two Labour Governments were prevented from passing Socialist measures because of the possible opposition from the Liberals (page 78): “A full Socialist programme was ruled out by the Liberal veto." The truth is that the Labour Party, being a non-Socialist organisation, could do nothing other than administer capitalism, with all its defects.

In general, therefore, this is a useful work so far as the early history of the movement is concerned, but in the latter sections the reader should proceed warily and critically.
Lew Jones

The Devil is Convalescing (1943)

From the May 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a speech at Aberdeen University, reported in The People (February 7th, 1943), Sir Stafford Cripps warned his audience that they must not let slip the present opportunity to plan for peace. Soon it will be too late, for ”certain interests are already massing their forces to fight the plans for a better Britain and a better world after the war.” This is not a reference to Hitler, but to "privilege and selfish interests” here in this country. Sir Stafford quoted the old saying, "The devil was sick, the devil a monk would be! The devil is well, the devil a monk is he!” but went on rather inconsistently to dismiss "facile explanations dealing with deceitfulness of politicians or the trickery of the ruling class.” He recalled that in November, 1918, Mr. Lloyd George talked of making Britain "a fit country for heroes to live in,” but already it was too late, "the time had already passed and the new spirit of common sacrifice was already being strangled by the old forces of internal difference which rapidly reared their heads once the danger was past.”

Rather appropriately, in a neighbouring column of The People, is a statement made by Mr. Winston Churchill that "the sun has now begun to shine . . . " Continuing Sir Stafford's reference to the sickness of the devil, it might be suggested that as he basks in the new sunshine the devil is already in the convalescent stage, with a corresponding diminution of the early war-time seal for repentance and reform.

It prompts the question why the Labour Party (and Sir Stafford, who opposes the Labour Party) did not strike while the devil was really sick, by securing explicit pledges from the Government as regards post-war legislation on parts of the Labour Party programme, as a condition of entering the Cabinet.

Sir Stafford offered a second reason why sincere reformers in the past have failed to overcome the opposing forces. It is that they "under-estimate the support they would win from the people. . . . for a bold programme of change.” He did not define in concrete terms what he would regard a "bold programme of change" but we know one—Socialism. Sir Stafford has often in the past affirmed his support for Socialism, but we notice that in May, 1942, when he addressed the Fabian Society and defended the electoral truce and National Government in war-time, he explained why the compromise nature of the Government made it obvious that "no fundamental changes of a revolutionary character could be expected, nor was it desirable that they should be pressed " (Evening Standard, May 30th, 1942.) If the Evening Standard account is correct (it was described as being received from "an old member" of the Fabian Society who was present). Sir Stafford then went on to urge a Continuation of the idea of National Government after the war. He pleaded for "a National Progressive Government," but added that this Government "should not insist on any 'ism."

Not insisting on any "ism" means keeping.the present "ism" (Capitalism) and not attempting to change over to Socialism. This comes oddly from one who has long professed to believe that Socialism is what is required, and who criticise others for not seeking popular support for a bold programme of change.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Happiest Man In The World (1943)

Film Review from the June 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

The news cinemas are now showing a 15-minute “short" with the above title, based on a short story by the American prince of short story writers, O. Henry.

The dramatisation of a tiny commonplace incident in the everyday life of capitalist society, acted by two characters only, dwarfs into insignificance all the “colossal,“ "stupendous,' etc., etc., epics of the Hollywood dope works. Briefly, the story consists in the application by a desperately anxious unemployed man from Kansas, to his brother-in-law, the transport manager of an oil company in Texas, for a job. The job is vacant, because it is deadly dangerous; driving a truck-load of nitro-glycerine. "If a wheel hits a rock, there's no truck, no load, no driver any more." The pay is high, six dollars a run. The whole action of the film consists in the dialogue between the two men in the office of Tom, the foreman. Jesse (the unemployed man) begs, pleads and entreats. Tom is adamant. "Think of your wife and kids," says he, "go back home. I'll send you something." "Tom," says Jesse, "I am thinking of 'em. I've been on relief six years. My kids' bones are soft, they've got rickets because they've been fed on relief for six years." "But you won't last a month," rejoins Tom. "Even then," says Jesse, "I'll have made 600 dollars. I can get my wife and kids some clothes and shoes, maybe even some for myself." At last Tom gives in. "All right! report to-night for your first run." Jesse is overjoyed, thanks Tom with tears in his eyes, as he steps out into the sun, and remarks, "I guess I'm the happiest man in the world."

This is the sort of thing that takes places often in capitalist society, especially in the prosperous United States of America.

How farcical the chatter about "freedom from want" in a society based on a tiny minority giving the vast majority "jobs"—which the majority must have or starve. And how trifling the uneasy qualms of humanitarian pacifists about human life—in war time only. Working men are slaughtered every day in peace time for capitalist profits.

This short film, which exposes the misery created by capitalism like a lightning flash in a dark sky, is the prototype of what might be possible when the Socialist Party has sufficient resources to apply modern technical developments, like the cinema, to the task of Socialist propaganda.
Horatio.

Blogger's Note:
Sadly, I couldn't find the short film on YouTube, but I did find the text of the original short story on a Russian website. The bare bones of the story - as described by 'Horatio' in his review - suggests the short story might have been the inspiration for Clouzot's 'The Wages of Fear'.

It turns out that the original story was not by O. Henry but by Albert Maltz, an American Communist writer of that period. The story first appeared in the June 1938 issue of Harper's Magazine. It was an honest mistake by 'Horatio' (Harry Young) because the short story was in fact the recipient of the O. Henry Award for 1938. An award given out annually for outstanding short stories.